In case you haven’t heard, there is a new Star Wars movies that has just come out—The Last Jedi.
Okay, obviously you’ve heard about it. And you’re probably well aware of the very heated reactions fans have had to the movie: they either loved it or they hated it; they either applauded its bold story-telling or they condemned it for the obvious plot-holes and the way it chose to end Luke Skywalker’s story.
And just to get it out of the way, yes, there were a number of things I could have done without, like Princess Leia’s newfound ability to fly through space, and Poe Dameron’s calling up Maz Kanata, while she’s in the middle of some kind of battle, for advice on where to find a code-breaker. And while we’re at it, why didn’t Vice-Admiral Holdo just tell Poe Dameron, “Hey, we’re cloaking the escape pods, so the First Order can’t see us,” so that Poe wouldn’t stage a mutiny? And finally, how in the heck did DJ even know about the cloaking plan in the first place, so that he could cut a deal with the First Order by telling them of the Resistance’s plan?
That being said, I still liked the movie. Of course, the first time I saw it, I remarked to my brother at the end, “I liked it, but hey, I’m 48 now. I guess the whole Star Wars things doesn’t excite me as much now.” But then tonight, I went and saw it a second time by myself—and I have to say, it grew on me quite a lot. I was able to sit back and just absorb the story, and I found myself reflecting on a number of things in the movie that really are true about life as a whole.
The Empire, the First Order: The Powers and Principalities of this World
The first thing that struck me was that, here we are, in Episode 8, and the Darkness of the Empire or First Order always seems to have the upper hand, while the Rebellion or Resistance is always in tatters, always on the verge of collapse. We want the good guys to beat the bad guys, and even though there are notable victories along the way (i.e. the deaths of Darth Maul, the Emperor, and Snoke, the destruction of the Death Star and Star Killer Base, the turning of Darth Vader), the dehumanizing system of oppressive Empire is always there, wielding its destructive power.
Near the end of The Last Jedi, right before Rose crashed into Finn, preventing him from destroying himself in order to destroy the First Order’s battering ram, I noticed that as Finn was preparing to go through with his suicide mission, his eyes lit up in flame. After Rose crashed into him, Finn asked her why she did it. She said, “I saved you. We will win, not by destroying the thing that we hate, but by saving those we love.”
I couldn’t help but think, in our day and age, whether it is with our national politics or current crises around the globe, how true Rose’s sentiments are. Yes, there is an obvious and inevitable time to fight those who wield oppressive power and to protect, as Vice-Admiral Holdo said, the weak, the oppressed, and the downtrodden, but the motivation for it all should come from a desire to save those we love, not to destroy those we hate. For, as anyone who knows anything about Star Wars, hate leads to the dark side. Hate is seductive because it can give you a sense of self-righteousness and can convince you that it holds the only power powerful enough to “take down the system.” It whispers, “Give into your hate, strike your enemy down, then take your place by my side, and we will rule the galaxy together.”
And just like that, you have become an agent of Empire.
The Arrogance and Failure of the Jedi
Another telling thing was the way Luke told Rey about the legacy of the failure of the Jedi. It was under their watch that the Sith took power, and it was his personal failure in the training of Ben Solo that allowed the darkness to rise again. Luke said that after he was able to turn Darth Vader, he became “a legend,” and that made him arrogant, and that was what led to Ben becoming Kylo Ren.
The humiliating realization of both his failure and that of the Jedi led Luke to self-imposed exile and seclusion on the sacred island of Ach-to, where he was alone with the sacred Jedi texts and the sacred tree. He was prepared to die in obscurity, and was convinced that with his death, the Jedi and the Jedi religion would come to an end. He was, quite simply, a broken old man.
And yet, near the end of the film, after Rey had left Ach-to, and Luke was getting ready to burn both the tree and the texts, his old teacher Yoda shows up in the Force, sets the sacred tree ablaze before Luke can, and then gives Luke one last lesson. Luke was a broken man because he realized he failed. Yet Yoda tells him that a Jedi does not simply pass on his knowledge and power—he passes on his failure as well. Accepting failure, learning from it, and passing those lessons on to those who come after—that is the key.
And when you think about it, that is true, not simply in the Star Wars movies, but in life as well. Yoda died, exiled on Dagobah, Qui-Gon Jinn was struck down by Darth Maul, Obi-Wan Kenobi sacrificed himself at the hands of Darth Vader—yet it was through these defeats and failures that the Jedi survived, and hope was kept alive. In each case, there was failure and defeat, yet it was through that failure and defeat that new hope was born.
We’ve all suffered failure and defeat that threatens to cripple us for the rest of our lives. For me, it was my divorce, and then on the heels of that failure, getting fired from my high school teaching job because I didn’t happen to agree with young earth creationism. Honestly, in some ways, I still haven’t fully recovered from that hurt and pain. In many ways, I feel very much alone and isolated, and find myself in my own peculiar exile, bearing the responsibility of raising a child by myself.
Yet the challenge for me, and for everyone at some point in their lives, is this: What will you do with that failure? Will you let it consume you, or will you let it transform you, however painfully, as you put to death the parts of you that need to die?
The Tree and the Texts
Yoda told Luke while the sacred tree was burning, “There’s nothing in that tree or in those texts that isn’t in Rey already.” That line struck me, and I found myself thinking of the Cross and the Bible. Too often, Christians end up making idols of the Cross and the Bible, and, particularly in America today, too many feel they need to “defend” and “fight” to keep Christian symbols in the public square. Well, I’m sorry, but it is idols that need to be defended, because idols can’t defend themselves—they are false gods.
Anything can be made into an idol. And I think that was what Luke was struggling with—the Jedi religion bore witness to the Force; but when the Jedi felt that they possessed the Force, they became arrogant—and there was Luke, a broken failure, exiled on Acho-to, convinced that the Jedi must end, but too afraid to let go of the sacred tree and texts. They were to bear witness to the Force, but they were in danger of becoming idols themselves, and so the tree was set ablaze and (although Luke was unaware of it) the texts were taken by Rey. We learn at the end of the movie that she would be the next Jedi, and so we hope that the texts will once again bear witness to the Force, and not become a false idol of it.
What does that mean for the Cross and the Bible? Perhaps we need to see the Cross as something we are to take up every day as we die to ourselves, and not as a symbol that needs to be defended at all costs. And perhaps we should learn to have enough faith to let Bible bear witness and breathe again—let the Spirit blow where He will; let the Word of God be living and active. What does that mean? I’ll let you figure that one out.
Finally, the character of Kylo Ren is fascinating. On one hand, you see the inner struggle and conflict within him. He wants to be like Darth Vader and to complete what Vader started, but no matter how much he tries to kill the past, by killing his father Han Solo, or by trying to kill Luke, the past never leaves him, and he is thus in constant torment. He can’t kill his mother Leia, and he can’t kill Rey. And yet he kills Snoke, the one who brought him to the Dark Side.
But then again, earlier in the film, after being berated by Snoke, there is the scene where Kylo Ren smashes and destroys his Vader-like helmet. As Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke in the first movie, Darth Vader was more machine than man anymore—his turn to the Dark Side destroyed his humanity. Still, Luke felt the good in Vader and was able to eventually turn him back to the Light—Vader became Anakin again, a true human being.
And so, with Kylo Ren, does his smashing of his Vader-like helmet foreshadow his turning back to the Light and regaining his humanity? If so, then why doesn’t he turn back to the Light when Rey asks him to? I think it is because he feels the way forward is through killing the past. Yet you can never kill the past. When you try to kill the past, it is always with you. And that is why, at the end of the film, I had no idea the path Kylo Ren will take in Episode 9. He’s tried to kill off the Jedi, and he seemingly has rejected the Sith. Rey was right—he is a monster: not human, not machine, but a conflicted and hate-filled monster.
As for Rey, we learn she was nobody; her parents were nobodies. But that really shouldn’t be surprising—Anakin Skywalker was originally a nobody, who went from Light, to Dark, and back to Light. And the entire Star Wars story began with that little nobody…and Rey ended up at the end of the movie, holding Anakin’s broken lightsaber.
Ultimately, The Last Jedi was a dark film, with only a small flicker of light. But if there is one thing that should be clearly stated, it is this: that small flicker of light was kept alive through the self-sacrificial love of various characters, from Vice-Admiral Holdo, to Rose, and to Luke himself. There still is hope, but there are a lot of questions unanswered.
If that doesn’t describe my life, I don’t know what does. I’m guessing it describes many other lives as well.
In any case, I want to share two more quick observations. First, as I just mentioned, I found it very poignant that Rey is holding Anakin’s old lightsaber, now broken in two from her stand-off with Kylo Ren, as she wonders to Leia what will happen next. Indeed…The Last Jedi has broken free from the old, predictable storylines—something new is coming. And that can be rather foreboding, or hopeful: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isa 43:18-19).
And finally, out of curiosity, did anyone notice in the very last scene, when that little stable-boy ran out of the room, back to the outside to do the sweeping, that he used the force when he reached for the broom?
…Another nobody, and the Force is strong with him. There’s something very biblical to that notion, isn’t there?